Ten Things About… Legend by David Gemmell

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A Legend. A living, breathing, Legend. He had carved his bloody name in history with nought but an axe. Deathwalker the Nadir called him. But that was a long time ago. Druss feels a legend in his own rights, or at least as old as one. The only silver he sees in his retirement is the grey in his hair, not the treasures of youthful victory in battle. Death waits for Druss, he knows this, and Death is patient. It taunts him with senility as his health fades.

The Nadir horde march for Drenai. Dros Delnoch, a garrison of ten thousand, stands before half a million bloodthirsty tribesmen. If the garrison falls, the Nadir will swam through the pass it guards and slaughter a nation.

Druss is summoner by the dying Earl of Delnoch. Death has summoned him to battle. Axe in hand, Death at his shoulder, Druss answers the call to war. He knows this is his end, but he lived a Legend and Legend’s turn the tide.

The Nadir will know the Legend one last time. Deathwalker comes.

1) Long before Joe Abercrombie came along, and the word ‘grimdark’ was coined, there was this talented male fantasy author who wrote excellent gritty fantasy, who used characters that were all shades of grey and not just black and white. And this was his first book. Legend has legacy, man!

2) I love the fact that this book takes the idea of a man who has been everywhere and seen it all, and is now waiting to die when he hears about Dros Delnoch and saddles up for one last adventure. The idea of age and of not being able to do everything you want to is a great one to explore in fantasy fiction, especially the fact that warriors might rather go out in a blaze of glory than slowly become forgotten and decrepit.

3) Gemmell’s prose is not pretty and certainly doesn’t linger on description. Rather the strength in his writing comes from dealing with his characters, and their reactions to events. Legend is a simple and driving narrative. Anyone hoping for the depth of Abraham or the epic sweeping tale of Martin or the vivid and beautiful prose of Erikson might do well to look elsewhere.

4) Druss is an absolute legend (yep, the title is perfectly fitting!) This is a character larger than life – one who swears, pisses, grunts, kills, but is immensely likeable and carries the story with him. The secondary characters lose out a little when weighed against him. He is the character in a film who chews up the scenery!

5) Because of the period of his life during which Gemmell wrote this book, there is a weighty underlying discussion about the way in which we choose to live our lives. Do we choose a short, heroic, legendary life? Do we allow life to pass us by? What makes us heroic – the choices we take in life? The way we face what happens to us? What does it mean to die well, and live well? All of these questions and more are explored in the course of the narrative.

6) The worldbuilding is skimpy at best. There is this big old fortress, right? A Drenai fortress? And the Nadir, newly united under one leader, are trying to capture it and invade Drenai. That’s about all the worldbuilding you get. Plus, some of the standard fantasy tropes are ever-present: marauding, unending numbers of horsemen (Mongols) go up against valiant faux-European types. Of course, since Gemmell was writing this book a long time before others came along, it is questionable as to whether he is using tropes or creating something new!

7) Female characters? Not handled *that* badly, but certainly not the nuanced and entertaining ladies we see in more modern fantasy. Again, this might be more a product of the boys-own nature of the novel and the time in which it was written, when strong female characters were not demanded from fantasy authors in the same way they are now.

8) Linked to that, the romance is lacking. So there are these two characters and they fall in love. This is all we really get to see of their courtship and developing relationship. First they are not in love. A few pages later they are in love. Whirlwind romance doesn’t cover it.

9) A novel I might recommend for reluctant teen boy readers, actually. The writing is simplistic enough, but the story is gripping and has a number of fist-pumping moments that will engage with most boy teens.

10) Sterling battle scenes. Quiet moments of heroism. Fantastic edge-of-the-seat page-turning. This is what you get from Legend. It is an absolute gem of the heroic fantasy strand, and required reading for anyone who wants to understand part of where the fantasy fiction field has developed from.

A blood-curdlingly 8/10 – more elegant language would have bumped this up, and that can be found in later Gemmell works!

Ten Things About… Boys Who Makes Me Wish I Was Fictional

Another Tuesday and another topic from those dang fine Broke and Bookish peeps! Today we’re talking about the ten boys from fiction that totally make us go woah….

1) Gabriel Wolfe from L J Smith’s Dark Visions trilogy. The boy described as being chiaroscuro in colouring – all pale skin and black hair and blue eyes. Amazingly gorgeous, such a bad boy, and yet sooooo good as well. LOVE him!

2) Silk from David Eddings’ The Belgariad. Certainly not a looker, with his large nose and rather short stature, but man, did I love this guy!

3) Felix Sylvian from Kiss Chase by Fiona Walker. Oh, this man is a god! Just so sexy and so vulnerable.

4) In the same vein, cannot pass over Rupert Campbell-Black from Jilly Cooper’s novels. Now this is a man who can make my knees go week, with his bad boy behaviour and ability on horseback!

5) Terrible from Stacia Kane’s Downside Ghosts series. The strong, silent and damaged type, with such loyalty and passion.

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6) George Cooper, from Tamora Pierce’s The Song of the Lionness quartet. Alanna might not have seen his potential, but I clocked him from the start – an absolute lovable rogue.

7) Jean-Claude from the Anita Blake series by Laurell K Hamilton. The eternal lover, the beautiful French courtesan vampire. I loved Jean-Claude from the first whisper of passion in Guilty Pleasures, and Richard Zeeman was but a momentary lapse of reason.

8) Cole St Clair from the Wolves of Mercy Falls. Sure, Sam is a nice guy, but Cole totally rocks the joint from the first moment he hits the page. Another bad boy – there is a theme developing here, non?

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9) Gabriel (yep, another one) from Archangel by Sharon Shinn. His spiky nature, his beautiful singing voice, his passion for Rachel: all hot, hot, hot.

10) And let’s come full circle, to another of L J Smith’s boys (one of *the* best writers of male teen characters that can be lusted after *ever*): this time Adam from the Secret Circle trilogy. His scenes with Cassie make me shiver all over – still – and I always wished he could be mine.

Which fictional men do you lust after?

Ten Things About… Goodreads & Amazon

The news broke yesterday that Amazon have purchased Goodreads. Now, the independent book community is owned by mega corporation Amazon, and the whole Internet started to cry. Or did they? After all, there are some people who *never* go to Goodreads – ever – because of the atmosphere fostered there. Here are Ten Things About Goodreads & Amazon:

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1) Perhaps Amazon will prevent the rating of books without providing some kind of review on GR? Sure, this doesn’t ensure that the reviews will be any good, and it doesn’t ensure that the review can’t be a lie, but the ability to just rate a book on GR without providing any kind of commentary is annoying. How do you know that person had ever read the book? Why is it allowed?

2) Amazon doesn’t allow for reviews to be posted before the date of publication. Will they introduce this into Goodreads? At the moment a book can be slated prior to release on Goodreads. It can be useful to see early reviews of books, but I can’t imagine that authors appreciate low ratings before their novel is even out – especially when those ratings are not accompanied by any kind of review.

3) Where will Amazon sit on the use of gifs in reviews, hmm? One of the best things about Amazon reviews is that they have no pictures, nothing to detract from the words. Would anyone want to see that introduced to Goodreads?

4) Will the naming of shelves on Goodreads change? At the moment it is easy for readers to name their shelves, and some of these names are downright horrible. Will Amazon want to be associated with shelves called: “sucks-so-bad-i-didn’t-finish’ or ‘a-whole-new-level-of-boring’ or ‘this-shelf-can-die’.

5) Will Amazon do anything about the rampant bullying on Goodreads? There was a whole website set up and dedicated to naming and shaming the bullies from Goodreads – it’s a continual problem, and makes authors frequently cry. Again, will Amazon be pleased to have their name on this sort of thing?

So, this is all a bit GR-bashing. The fact is that Amazon are very unlikely to have any sort of say in the running of Goodreads – both the owners of GR and the Amazon representatives have made it very clear in their statements that GR will remain an independent book community. And, if they do have any say, I could see it being more in the realm of removing purchasing links to other sources of books, or taking out Nook references. If they’re not planning to do that – and they say they’re not – then it seems *very* unlikely that they’ll do any of the first five points.

6) How will advertising change on Goodreads? In terms of pricing, amount of ads etc? Will it still be something that debut/indie authors can afford, if they wished to take it out?

7) The worries about Amazon wading in and taking over seem to be a real knee-jerk reaction, in all honesty. How many people know that Amazon also own imdb.com, hmm? Because they do. And the independence of that site has remained clear.

8) I think publishers would cheer if reviews were cross-posted between Goodreads and Amazon. It must be painful to see only a handful of Amazon reviews, while Goodreads shows many, many more. BUT many people just don’t want to use Amazon, or be part of Amazon – will they be able to opt out of any potential cross-posting of reviews?

9) Will Amazon use the data from Goodreads to offer up more pertinent recommendations to those who use both sites? I mean, surely that is what Amazon have purchased Goodreads for, right? To access all of those millions of users and their reading data. Imagine their joy in being able to hone recommendations, thereby getting closer and closer to the guaranteed sale. Like, you’ve just finished this novel by George R R Martin – would you like to buy the sequel immediately? And how about trying novels by this seven other authors who compare favourably to GRRM?

10) It could have been worse. Another company might have purchased Goodreads. A company that has zero knowledge in books and the passionate community surrounding them. Maybe a company who really would stamp changes all over Goodreads. But I guess we’re all in the wait and see zone.

Where do you stand on the Goodreads/Amazon mash-up?

Ten Things About… April 2013 Waiting on Wednesday Books

Yay! Middle of the week! Today I’m joining in with the meme Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by Breaking the Spine. Of course, to fit my blog theme I am going to be highlighting my ten Waiting on Wednesday books coming in April.

1) Fly Away – Kristin Hannah

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Such a beautiful cover! I love Kristin’s books – they are some of the few that actually make me cry – and I can’t wait to get my hands on this one.

2) The Summer Wedding – Fiona Walker

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Fiona Walker is my number one indulgence author. This is the lady whose books come in the bath with me, when I have candles and chocolates as well!

3) The Elite – Kiera Cass

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Not as good a cover as The Selection, but I’m desperately awaiting this book anyhow after enjoying the first in the series so much.

4) The Machine – James Smythe

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Well, now. If you haven’t been reading James Smythe, then where have you been? I’ve read The Testimony and The Explorer in quick succession and I think he’s one of the greatest emerging talents on the scene. Can’t wait to get my hands on this one!

5) Dear Thing – Julie Cohen

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This is an interesting cover style change for Ms Cohen’s books, but I approve greatly since I don’t generally find her novels as fluffy as your generic chick lit. She’s a marvellous storyteller and this new one looks fab.

6) Mayhem – Sarah Pinborough

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Ahhhh, love that cover! In my view, Sarah Pinborough is one of the most under-rated people writing today. Her Dog Faced Gods trilogy was masterful, so I’m very excited to see where she takes this story.

7) The Shining Girls – Lauren Beukes

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Zoo City was one of my favourite novels in recent years. So obviously I am all over this new offering from Lauren Beukes!

8) The Crane Wife – Patrick Ness

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You know of Patrick Ness, right? Only one of the pre-eminent storytellers of recent times. I recently talked about how I consider The Knife of Never Letting Go to be a modern classic. This is an adult novel rather than YA, but I am still over the moon about being able to read something new from Patrick Ness.

9) The Exiled Blade – Jon Courtenay Grimwood

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This is a great series and here is the final novel. Will be lovely to see how the trilogy wraps up.

10) Graveyard Child – M L N Hanover

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Out of all of Daniel Abraham’s pseudonyms, this is my favourite lot of writing. I’m a big fan still of urban fantasy, and this series really is exceptional. Get started with Unclean Spirits, post haste!

Any of these catch your eye? What are you waiting for from April?

Ten Things About… Books I’d Recommend the Most

Today I am joining in the fabulous weekly meme by The Broke and the Bookish! The topic is Top Ten Books I Recommend the Most.

1) Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy – I recommend this one to anyone who has a reluctant reader in their house. The imagination and the exciting adventures ensure that they will be turning the pages in no time.

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2) How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell – This one I like to give to people who have watched the movie, since they are *very* different beasts and I think the novel is exceptionally funny!

3) The Hobbit by J R R Tolkien – I recommend it because it is the first real book that I read on my own, and I was totally swept up in the wonderful story. Gollum and Smaug are brilliant creations.

4) The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger – I like to suggest this to people who don’t think that they like SF, since it is most definitely an SF but one of the most sweeping love stories I’ve ever read. I think it’s changed a lot of minds about what constitutes science fiction.

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5) Seraphina by Rachel Hartman – after my review yesterday I think that anyone could see why I want to recommend this! It’s just a *wonderful* example of a YA novel and a high fantasy novel.

6) One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey – this is an essential novel, in my view, and I recommend it to those who want to think about what they’ve read, who want to be changed by a book. It is truly amazing.

7) The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness – very much a modern classic, at this point. This SF novel is written in such a style that you can empathise completely with Todd and the way his life unfolds. Plus, Manchee *weeps*

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8) The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – I recommend to those who still believe that YA is nothing but sparkly vampires! This soon sorts them out!

9) Matilda by Roald Dahl – I recommend to those who consider themselves a bookworm! How could you be a bookworm and not have read this wonderful story?!

10) Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater – I recommend this to people who want to read a beautifully written book.

Would love to know your picks!

Ten Things About… Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

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Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

In her exquisitely written fantasy debut, Rachel Hartman creates a rich, complex, and utterly original world. Seraphina’s tortuous journey to self-acceptance is one readers will remember long after they’ve turned the final page.

Another Young Adult fantasy that has been talked up by plenty of folk, and has been garnering nominations and awards all over the place. I couldn’t resist giving it a go and found myself sucked into a world that I am desperate to spend more time in.

1) One of the things I loved most about Seraphina was the pacing. Hartman was not concerned about slowly unveiling her tale, showing us the world of Seraphina and how it is all interlinked. We found out history and culture, all at the most luxuriously slow pace. This isn’t to say that the tension was not ratcheted sky high when it needed to be, but I really appreciated the fact that it didn’t all happen at breakneck speed, which is often the case with YA novels.

2) I loved the exploration of prejudice and acceptance through the use of dragons and half-dragons. It is a great way to introduce these themes to a younger reader, and allow them to use the ideas as discussion points. It never comes across as preachy.

3) Hartman has written a terrific protagonist in the form of Seraphina. She is complicated and flawed and nuanced and just *very* real. She loves and hates, and has messy relationships with those around her, from her father to the dragon Orma. She is spectacularly written.

4) I enjoyed the fact that we had here a novel that was not merely high fantasy, but was also a mystery, an adventure romp and a romance. You get a lot of bang for your buck – a wonderful amount of story – within the pages of Seraphina. Again, this makes it somewhat unusual in the YA arena, since some of the premises for books are possibly enough to sustain a short story. Seraphina is rich and deep.

5) The dragons are a wonderful construct. They aren’t just beautiful flying creatures. Instead, they are deeply logical and scientific beasts that believe emotions will muddy the waters of progress. They see humans as being like cockroaches – but very interesting cockroaches that bear examination. This was a classy portrayal of a creature that could have come across as a little tired and cliche-ridden. Rather, they felt very fresh.

6) Occasionally – and only very occasionally – the events were portrayed in a slightly rocky fashion, because of going into Seraphina’s ‘mind garden’ (which so reminded me of Sherlock Holme’s mind palace!) and experiencing flashbacks to previous events. It was never so bad that it prevented enjoyment of the book but now and then I had to work harder to get to grips with what was happening.

7) The secondary characters were as well-fleshed and lovingly written as the main character, which I just loved to see. Sometimes you can have a main character who is so well done that everyone else fades around them, but this wasn’t the case here.

8) There was a richness to the prose that made it a real joy to keep turning the pages.

9) I enjoyed the way that art and music and culture were a large part of Seraphina. It’s good to see a world as fully-formed as this, but it also serves as a way of expressing the personalities involved. Seraphina’s love of music – especially since she’s forbidden to play – introduces in an exemplary fashion some of what makes her tick.

10) One of the best YA novels of recent times, I think that Seraphina will be up there with the classics such as Elidor, C S Lewis and Philip Pullman. An exceptional read.

Despite a slightly uneven delivery at times, this really does deserve a flawless 10/10.

Ten Things About… Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

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Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherworldly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”; she speaks many languages–not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When one of the strangers–beautiful, haunted Akiva–fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

I’ve taken a long time to get to this book. It feels like the whole world has read it before me – and they loved it. Which meant I got more and more worried that I wouldn’t feel the same, that it was all hype. Here are ten things about Daughter of Smoke and Bone:

1) Laini Taylor’s prose is just exquisite – both whimsical and wistful. It drew me in entirely and had me immersed in this world within a few paragraphs. I couldn’t tell you what it is about her prose exactly that makes it so very beautiful – all I know is that the descriptions delighted me.

2) It is slightly a novel of two halves. The first part, dealing with Karou and her peculiar life, was wonderful. Akiva’s arrival, however, led this book onto a more conventional path. Star-crossed lovers, involving one party who I found a little dull. This disappointed me. I also found the swiftness with which Akiva regains all his feelings a bit hard to swallow. And the idea of true love happening as the two protagonists gaze at each other is just ridiculous – Romeo and Juliet has a lot to answer for.

3) The setting is brilliant. Prague lends itself to folklore and fairytale and is the perfect location for Karou. It’s also lovely seeing somewhere that isn’t the States or London.

4) Karou is a wonderful protagonist. She’s strong and knows her own mind; she’s not angsty; she is confident and brave. I think this is the best kind of heroine – truly someone who young readers can aspire towards.

5) The chimaera are a terrific creation – imaginative, dark and dangerous. Seeing them in all their various forms, and knowing their conflict was a great part of what made this book so impressive.

6) I absolutely loved the idea of teeth and wishes, especially those three levels of wishes. It felt so unique and yet timeless as I read about it. Brimstone, as well, was fantastically intriguing and foreboding.

7) I object terribly to the cliff hanger ending – although at least the second book is out now and I can go and pick it up straight away! I can’t even think how it would have been if I’d read this book when it first came out and had a year to wait until the second… Why such a cliff hanger? Just a cynical ploy to get people to pick up the second?

8) The friendship between Karou and Zuzana is well-drawn, and gives a warm depth to the book. It’s lovely to encounter a friendship like this in a paranormal romance type YA, where usually the heroine doesn’t really have friends and relies exclusively on the chap who she falls deeply in love with. To have an authentic friendship in a novel elevates Daughter of Smoke and Bone above other novels of this ilk.

9) I felt the flashback section dealing with Madrigal was a little clumsily dropped into the story. It was only towards the end that all the pieces came together that I regained all my enjoyment for the novel.

10) Watching her while she sleeps, Akiva? Just no. Stop. It’s not romantic. It’s being a stalker.

In the end the pros definitely outweighed the cons and I would give this a hearty 8/10.

What did you think of it?